Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Business Segregation by Economics

A few months ago, East Bay merchants raised a hissy fit over the increase in parking toll prices due to the fact that they would discourage business.  Today, it was announced that the Bay Bridge and other bridges would see a toll hike – one that would raise the commuter toll price of the Bay Bridge to $6 from $4.  Upon hearing this news, people are not happy today.  See here.

I’m normally discouraged to travel to the East Bay or anywhere out of San Francisco for much of anything, but sometimes I do make the effort because there are worthwhile places to go (such as my commute to my day job).  I have quite a few East Bay friends who often react similarly when it comes to visiting the city, but they manage to do so once in a while to enjoy a meal or a night in the city.  At first, this toll hike issue may surface as a common daily commuter problem, but if we apply the very basic idea of trickle down economics – everyone pays, including a fragile restaurant/hospitality industry.

I’m not sure if I need to remind people about how ominously quiet San Francisco happened to be when the Bay Bridge shutdown for a week.  With a jobless rate at 12-13%, gas prices hovering $3 and parking tolls at $.25 per 5 minutes, I wouldn’t blame anyone living as close as Emeryville to seek other dinner and entertainment options away from this city. 

As for the East Bay, a good chunk of the Bay Area’s disposable income resides within the wealthier confines of San Francisco and the Peninsula.  People who used to plan on saving some money by carpooling to eat and buy goods in the East Bay, (e.g. Ikea or WalMart to name a couple) will now have to fork over $2.50 for carpool travel.  If you couple that with the additional amount of gas spent on sitting idle in your car to pay this new toll, you will have a whole new group of pissed off people who swear never to venture out again. 

But, you’re probably questioning if those situations are equalizers for each other – meaning are SF residents more likely to fill the blank spaces in SF and East Bay residents likely to do the same?  There may be some sort of cancellation factor there, but I’m pretty sure of three things.  The first is that there is an uneven amount of people going across one side of the bridge versus the other.  So I’m not sure who ultimately suffers more, but someone comes out worse off.  The second is that the services in SF that are desirable for people in the East Bay are not the same as the ones that SF residents travel to the East Bay for.  This means that the merchants that lose customers due to toll hikes are not the same people that may see a boost from them.  Third and finally, everyone will end up paying for this because this is eventually going to cost the food truckers more money in the near future – adding another tiny deficit to the already delicate profit margins and fragile operating revenues.  And, we all know that when you add costs to supplies, those costs will likely transfer to the diner’s check. 

On top of all these good feelings, if you can believe it, the contrast between Oakland and San Francisco might end up worse than it already is.  I'm not implying that there are a lot of people in San Francisco who are out of touch with reality, I’m just trying to say that there’s a good contingent who happen to seem out of touch with other people’s realities. 

What can you do about this grave injustice?  Hope you’ve got a good cushion for someone else’s pushing “and everybody hurts…some time.”


  1. Great post. I commute from Fremont to Palo Alto every day. And there was a time when I could get behind the concept of "bridge users pay for the bridges" (although I have a hard time buying the idea that the tolls are going solely to bridge maintenance. But we're at a tipping point (actually we were there at the $4 mark if you ask me). When you have people paying **5 dollars** for the privilege of crossing a bridge, there's something really, *really* out of whack. I'm now seriously planning to move to the Peninsula, not because it will save money in the end, but because I'm completely sick of the concept. Honestly: they have toll roads all over So Cal; isn't it time we got real and considered it up here?

  2. stephanie implies the point i was going to make which is that landlords in the city and on the peninsula should love the toll hikes because living in the east bay just got more expensive.

    wrt restaurant economy, the increase in sf population might cancel out the decrease in visitors from the east bay.

    taxes (e.g. tolls) aren't bad (from an economic standpoint), if they are spent efficiently on useful things. but sometimes it seems like we'd be better off literally putting all the money in a big pile and burning it.